For years, clinical research has been unequal. There's been a lack of diversity in clinical trial participants for both the customer and provider side of medical science.
But, things have changed for the better and Continental Clinical Solutions is a major contributor.
Clinical research is more diverse now. Health education has become much more accurate and more people have been given a chance to participate in clinical trials empowering them to do good for the community.
I had the opportunity to chat with Saleh Stevens, CEO of Continental Clinical Solutions. Saleh and I discussed his new endeavor and briefly touched on elements of his journey to his most recent position.
What is Continental Clinical Solutions?
Continental is a full-service clinical trial company. We host and provide a full suite of services for managing late-phase clinical research at site level.
Entrepreneurs talk about their products solving problems. What problem does Continental Clinical Solutions solve and why is it important?
Ok, let's start with the landscape first and then back our way into the problem and solution. Medical research is conducted to advance science by testing novel and existing therapies and devices in patient populations. Consequently, successes of clinical research are shaped, in part, by the diversity of the investigators and study participants. Historically, there has been a problem with lack of diversity in clinical research, which impacts health outcomes across various patient populations. Continental brings clinical studies to less targeted, more diverse patient populations that would benefit from state of science treatment options that are otherwise unavailable.
Most people don't come up with ideas, let alone take action on them. How did you come across this idea and what motivated you to start?
Good question. I will give you the abbreviated version. I was about to have my fourth back surgery and I was investigating clinical trials offering bionics for my back. While I did not find any such studies, I realized the idea of flying to exclusive locations around the globe for cutting-edge treatment was not a viable option for most people in need of new or different therapies. Curiosity led me to investigate the availability of clinical trials to people in general. At the same time, I was looking for a new career. Et viola, clinical research quickly became both a personal and business "itch" that, I decided to scratch.
Speaking of new career, you come from a business/legal background. Was the transition into science difficult?
Thanks for the softball. I haven't had coffee yet. I saw a problem in medical science that, to me, happened to have business solutions. To that end, parts of the "transition" were seamless. For example, reading, precision writing and critical thinking are pretty standard in business and are highly transferable skills. Stepping into a new business, creating a sound business vision around expansion, marketing, legal analyses and budgeting, was not an easy task, but was well within my wheelhouse. Some of the bumpier parts of the transition arose from encountering science and medical concepts. If it is outside of making a volcano with vinegar and baking soda, it may be outside of my core competencies in science. So, I thought to myself: Google can't necessarily help me analyze contracts and tweak business decisions, but it can sure help me hire scientists. I was mostly right. Thanks, Google.
What are some hardships you had to overcome in the beginning and how did you overcome them?
I will skip over the obvious start-up hardships like cash-flow, licensure and staffing. I'll also gloss over the quintessential doubt scene where I look in the mirror in the morning and say to myself: "what are you doing? Get your head in the game, Stevens."
Earning credibility was the biggest hardship for me. I was new to the industry. And while I understood things conceptually, I didn't speak the language or know the culture. I am sure industry insiders thought I was both an outsider and a fool--true or not--it was not a good look and was certainly hard to overcome. I started to solve that problem by reading industry blogs, spending some time reading industry reports, visiting FDA web sites and being at as many industry events as possible, giving presentations when I could.
What are some mistakes you made and how did you fix them?
At Continental, my first big mistake was hiring someone to do non-technical data tasks on proprietary software suites I had neither mastered nor fully understood. It was the blind leading the blind, compounded by our both being on the payroll. Moral of that story is you can't do everything, insert parenthetical reference, forever. But, you should do everything for a little while. For a while I was every given title on the org chart- copy boy to temperature logger. Digging into each role really helped me understand the nuances of what all of the needs and responsibilities were throughout the company.
New career. New skills. Hardships and mistakes. What keeps you motivated given all those obstacles?
The motivation piece is very cliché. Every day I learn something, teach someone, and help someone contribute to their own health or the health of their community. That hits the main food groups for motivation in my book. I learn about new medications, treatments and get an understanding of diseases I only really knew by name. Similarly, I get to reach out to people about their illnesses and offer treatments that they would otherwise not have know about. And let's be real, each trial in which we participate has an impact on clinical medicine for years to come. Outside of time with friends and family, Continental's forward contributions get me out of bed everyday.
How did you fund your business?
I funded the business with my efforts and partnerships. I partnered with an organization that had preexisting infrastructure and know-how, but was not operating in the clinical research space. Initially, everything we did solely required human capital without hard cash outlay. Later, we partnered with a more established Site Management Organization to further our growth potential. It is so in vogue to think entrepreneurs need a large series of funding to get started. In many cases, that simply is not true.
How did you acquire your first customer and how long did that take?
I developed a great relationship with a company with whom I partnered. We developed a large amount of trust in each other. As a result, they referred a study to Continental within the first 6 months of business. The referral was a gift and a curse. The gift was having revenue and a first customer. The curse was that I did not initially learn the nuances of getting customers. Also, it took another couple of months to get the customer fully signed up; trials are highly regulated and document intense.
List a few of your favorite books and blogs that you recommend others in your industry to read:
My all-time favorite book is Great Expectations, by Dickens. I read it every year or two. Otherwise, I read about history and healthcare reform. Reinventing American Healthcare by Ezekiel J. Emanuel is my most recent read. Good book. As far as blogs go, I follow Dan Sfera because he is so down to earth with his everyman's insider view on issues in research. My other favorite blogs are from Eli Lilly, Judy Stone and the FiercePharma aggregator.
What's one piece of advice you'd like to give our aspiring entrepreneur readers?
My sage piece of advice to entrepreneurs is to know when to quit, but don't be a quitter. Perseverance and determination are necessary traits in entrepreneurship; however, people often make the incorrect inference that having those traits means to never quit on an idea. Wrong. Some ideas are just plain bad, won't work or are impossible to bring to fruition. That's life. Run an idea to its logical conclusion and if it is not meant to be, move on--you're an entrepreneur, not a robot with an unchangeable mission.
Good interview. Thank you for that.
How can people find you?
Continental can be found online:
I am on most social media, too.